Fellow Citizens, Brothers and Sisters............
The optimum health of residents of Saint Lucia and visitors to our shores has always been the focus of our attention at the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations We are cognizant of the many challenges that confront us in providing acceptable health care to all. One of the ways in which we can be assured that we are indeed overcoming these challenges is through continuous monitoring of the morbidity and mortality situation.
In recent weeks, the Epidemiology Unit of my Ministry has been tracking the incidence of Dengue Fever in Saint Lucia. Like every other Caribbean and Latin-American country, where dengue has been endemic, in other words where dengue has been present, it is important to know that we are taking all necessary measures to prevent an epidemic.
Dengue fever is a disease that is characterized as an acute viral infection that causes a sudden onset of fever lasting 3 to 5 days, intense headache, muscle pain, joint pains, pain to the back of the eyes, loss of appetite and skin rash. The disease is spread by the bite of an infective Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Dengue fever is not new to Saint Lucia, for we have had two (2) major and three (3) minor outbreaks over the last two (2) decades. On an average six (6) cases of Type II are reported per year. The Ministry of Health has recently confirmed the presence of the Dengue Type III virus in Saint Lucia, for the first time. However, the coexistence of Dengue Type III with Type II in Saint Lucia increases the potential for the occurrence of the more severe forms of the disease, that is Dengue
Hemorrhagic Fever and Dengue Shock Syndrome.
It is worthy to note too that, this strain of the virus has been identified in other parts of the Caribbean such as Belize, Puerto Rico, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Jamaica, French Guyana, Martinique, Dominica, Aruba and Barbados.
As I indicated earlier, the Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads the dengue fever virus. This is a mosquito that lives close or within human habitation and breeds primarily in clear stagnant water. It is commonly found breeding in drums, tyres, coconut shells, flower vases containing water, discarded tins, derelict vehicles, roof gutters and open soak-away pits. The high prevalence of these potential breeding sites in very close proximity to our homes, coupled with the fact that we are in the rainy season, presents a situation that favours the proliferation of the mosquito population.
The mode of spread of the dengue virus and the relatively short incubation period is also significant. The environmental conditions under which we live, that is within close distance to each other and our patterns of socialization, always visiting each other, makes it easy to contract the dengue virus away from our neighbourhood. I need to mention too that currently there is no vaccine to prevent dengue fever.
Let me assure you fellow citizens, there is no outbreak or epidemic of dengue fever in Saint Lucia Nonetheless, considering the mode of spread of the dengue virus, the environmental conditions that favour its spread and the confirmation of Dengue Type III, the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations has found it necessary to intensify its surveillance and prevention and control strategies. Some of these prevention and control strategies include greater preparedness with regards to clinical case management; community sensitization and education on prevention and elimination of potential breeding sites; and intersectoral collaboration to ensure the distribution of portable water.
Traditionally, the approaches of the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations has been largely dependent on the use of education and consequent execution of clean-up campaigns in various communities and the extensive use of chemical control which includes fogging. Each of the approaches have had varied levels of success. We are at a stage of our environmental consciousness, where we need to pay particular attention to chemical control. We need to be mindful of the use of fogging, in particular with respect to the implication for its impact on other beneficial insects in the wider environment. My Ministry is also concerned with the cost benefit of the use of other chemical methods of mosquito control.
We at the Ministry strongly believe that dengue is basically a problem of domestic sanitation. We also believe that with little or no expenditure, each member of a household can play their part by eliminating the problem by physical means and without the use of chemicals. Our challenge therefore, is to find appropriate ways in influencing the community to accept responsibility and take action in preventing and controlling dengue.
On behalf of the technical officers of my Ministry I issue this appeal to all residents of this country to be more vigilant and take appropriate action to inhibit the spread of the dengue virus. I ask of each individual to begin to take pride in keeping their surroundings clean.
As an indication of your commitment to prevent and control dengue fever, I ask that you take the first step and keep all water storage containers properly covered; empty or discard all containers that may collect water around the house; dispose of garbage properly; and use soil instead of water in flower vases. You may also wish to reduce the possibility of mosquito bites through the use mosquito nets and other screens. Use repellents and other insecticides sparingly.
Community involvement in the fight against dengue is encouraged. At the community level, collective decisions and actions to maintain clean and safe environments must be sustained. This is where I invite our corporate partners to be so generous in supporting initiatives that will enable our efforts in averting an epidemic of dengue fever in Saint Lucia
I thank you for your cooperation as we join forces in the prevention and control of Dengue fever. The time to act is now.
I thank you